By Daniel Brock
Published April 5, 2010
A massive 300-foot crane picked up a 35-foot beam, and a gang of workers guided the steel column into place Monday as a gaggle of media members, lawmakers and project officials decked out in hard hats, vests and safety goggles looked on.
It was a moment that signified the beginning of the erection of Boeing’s 1.2 million square foot final assembly and delivery facility in North Charleston. It’s also a scene that will be repeated 157 more times as construction crews aim to complete steel work on the plane maker’s cavernous new plant in the next 26 weeks.
“In the construction industry, the first setting of steel is a big event,” said Rick Muttart, the Charleston site director for Boeing Shared Services Group.
Boeing broke ground on the facility in November and has spent the last several months working on site development, including clearing 150 acres of trees.
Construction of the site’s critical facilities such as the building pad, beams and steel casing remains on track despite rainfall being 22 inches above average since work began last year, according to project officials.
“We will finish on schedule,” said Luther Cochrane, chairman and CEO of BE&K Building Group.
BE&K/Turner, a joint venture, is the design-build contractor for the facility. The BE&K Building Group's South Carolina regional office in Greenville serves as the headquarters for the BE&K/Turner/BRPH design-build team. BE&K Building Group, a KBR Company, is based in Charlotte, N.C. Turner Construction Company is headquartered in New York. BRPH is based in Melbourne, Fla.
Cochrane added that by focusing on the building pad, construction crews were able to avoid losing time on critical facilities.
In preparing the building pad, crews dug 158 deep-foundation caissons to correspond to the number of beams that will be placed in them. The caissons measure five feet in diameter and extend some 80 feet down. The beams, which will be lengthened by welded splices, will eventually rise 86 feet in height to the bottom of 400-ton trusses. The trusses will span the more than 460 feet of open space in the building’s assembly bay.
It’s a space that will be able to accommodate two Boeing 787s side by side. At its peak, the roof will be 114 feet high.
About 15,000 metric tons of steel will be used in the building’s construction.
Officials said production at the facility is still expected to begin in July 2011 and the first plane is scheduled to be delivered early in 2012. Once operational, the plant is expected to deliver three planes per month.
Between 500 and 700 construction workers are currently on the site on a daily basis, Boeing spokesperson Candy Eslinger said. That’s in addition to the 3,000 Boeing employees working on the project and at the company’s existing plants on Aviation Boulevard, as well as several construction management teams comprised of more than 100 project leaders.
About 90% of the work has been contracted out to South Carolina companies, Cochrane said, including the state’s largest-ever steel order.
“From our standpoint, this is a time when a couple lines converge,” Cochrane said. “We’ve got a major project, we’ve got a time when people want to work. It’s a game-changing situation for the entire community.”
In addition to the final assembly building, the site will include a delivery center, lobby and administration building, central utilities building, support building and a flight line that will serve as a corridor to the runways at Charleston International Airport.
The next construction milestone for construction crews is the completion of the building pad, which is scheduled for later this month. That will coincide with the moving of the main entrance, which currently lies in the building’s footprint.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air,” said Marco Cavazzoni, vice president and general manager of final assembly and delivery for Boeing Charleston, speaking of the project’s pace. “You come here, and you feel oxygen. You get this incredible bump up in terms of what this means for the region.”